Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Gurnard’s Head - Revisited

Gurnards Head from a distance

We had one of our favourite meals of all time at Gurnard’s Head back in 2009. It was only a light lunch of fish soup and grilled fish, but it was so perfect in its charm and flavour soaked simplicity that we left craving more. Inspired by our Cornish epiphany we went to The Gurnard’s Head’s sister pub in the Brecon Beacons called the Felin Fach Griffin and had an experience that was almost as good – it just made us want to return to the mother ship for more.

The Gurnard’s Head Inn is beyond St. Ives, not far from Land’s End and set back from a stunning stretch of Atlantic coastline. So it isn’t a place you can just pop along to on a whim. You need to build an entire holiday around it. So we decided to splash out on food rather than a roof over our head and found ourselves in Noongalllas's enchanting field between Penzance and St. Ives - where you rise from your tent to the sound of cows and the sight of a VW camper van selling coffee and croissants and go to sleep the sound of dropping pins.

We wanted to experience as much Gurnard’s Head goodness as possible so we walked down the National Trust coastal path with a picnic to explore the scenery. It turns out that The Gurnard’s Head itself is a rocky outcrop that stretches out into the Atlantic in the shape of a fish head, sheltering Treen Cove from the often ferocious sea. It’s been described as “one of the most striking and beautiful promontories in Cornwall” and is worth a visit with or without the brilliance of the restaurant.

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The simply perfect 360 view, the roasting heat of the south facing natural sun deck and the cool breeze from the sea makes this outcrop our favourite bit of geography in the UK. After a perfect picnic we headed back to our tent to tart ourselves up and returned ravenously to the Gurnard’s Head for dinner.

We arrived with high expectations and settled in for what turned out to be a memorable meal. Please excuse the grainy pictures and I hope I can do the food justice with a scattering of words.

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Pigeon salad with game chips, lambs lettuce and a turbo charged berry gravy was Cowie’s idea of heaven. The flesh was pinker than a camp panther with Cowie’s only criticism being that she’d like to have it all over again.

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My crispy pig’s ear salad with peas, pork belly and a sticky sauce is the kind of dish that excites you about the rest of the meal to come, like a shot of adrenaline before a rugby match – just as starters are supposed to. With a glass of dry sherry it ranks as my favourite starts to a meal of the year.

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Cowie’s cod, which came with a mound of puréed beans, carmelised fennel and a waft of truffle, was epic. It was as if the chef had briefed a silk worm to create a cocoon for the fish to be cooked in. It’s rare to find fish cooked with this level of care and intelligence. The purée complemented the softness of the fish and the fennel’s distinct fronds mirrored the flaky nature of the flesh.

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My hake with basil gnocchi and spinach was the best thing I’ve eaten all year. Crisp skin, flaking flesh and a rich fishy depth had me savouring each bite - whilst the gnocchi’s fondant texture and loud basil flavour added several layers to this sensual feast. I know I’m wanging on about this dish, but it was pretty good.

We shared some delicious ice cream for dessert and lingered over coffee to absorb the atmosphere and avoid retuning prematurely to our tent. We fell in love with a playful spaniel puppy that epitomised the pub’s bosom like atmosphere as he scampered between tables and rolled over to have his tummy rubbed. If I was forced to choose a final meal – there’s a fair chance that the Gurnard’s Head would be near the top of my list to rustle it up.

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